Rachel Heath

Intentional Living: learning to be fully present

Sometimes

A few months ago, a friend asked me if I liked being a mom. I hesitated for a moment – just a split second – before offering the answer I knew was correct, the expected answer.

Yes! Yeah, I love it. It’s wonderful. Being a mom is great. A challenge, but really wonderful. Of course. It’s great.

I heard myself repeating the same words over and over, frantically racking my brain for something specific. The truth is, in that moment, I really didn’t. I’m supposed to adore motherhood, but that day, I didn’t. I left the restaurant troubled by my response, and over the last few months that little piece of conversation has come back to haunt me at every one of my lowest parenting moments.

You’re a terrible mother. You couldn’t come up with a single reason you enjoy being a mom! Why did you even have children? 
It’s certainly no secret that motherhood has been a difficult adjustment for me. Sleep deprivation, kind to no one, I think does an especially hard job on me, and neither of our tinies were (are) good sleepers. Isabella would wake infrequently but it would take us close to an hour to get her back down, and she didn’t sleep through the night till she was 1. Barrett had awful colic for 5 months, and at 13 months old, he is still waking up 6-10 times a night.

The night before Mother’s Day (of course) was a very rough one for Bear. After he woke 5 times between 10pm and 1am, Stephen finally gave in and got him up. I was too worked up to sleep, so I got up too. We sat on the living room floor in our robes, Barrett playing quietly between us, and had an awful conversation about our big doubts, disillusionment with God, and disappointment over unanswered prayers (the middle of the night is obviously the best time to talk about these light topics).

“If I had known what this would really be like, I never would have had kids,” I muttered, refusing to let the hot tears surface.

The desperation and rage when it’s 2:30 am and I can’t get baby to calm down and fall asleep; the trembling fear of finding out just where my line is and how close I can come to it in the dark hours of the night.

The inability to walk out of a room, or even move from one spot on the floor, without my child wailing because I am leaving.

The chronic sleeplessness, the chronic feeling that sleeplessness is making me a shitty parent.

The look of fear on my child’s face when I suddenly snap and lose my temper; the satisfaction of losing my temper; the immediate rush of guilt afterwards; the many broken items in my wake.

The loss of identity, loss of autonomy, slow death of untended relationships, sacrifice of career.

The constant demand for attention, the always being-needed.

The frightening realization of just how easily I can be worn down by whining, complaining, and backtalking.

The surprise of just how much a 3-year-old’s careless and ignorant words can hurt.

The tiredness in my very bones.

Being confronted by the ugliest parts of my heart; my need for control, my anger, my deficit of Every. Single. Fruit of the Spirit.

Yes, this is part of my parenting reality… but it’s not the whole truth. I got the chance (bless my husband) to go sit by myself at a coffee shop on Mother’s Day, and I took the time to write in the journals we keep for both kids.

God began to show me that I am indeed a different woman than I was before I gave birth… and that’s exactly how He intends it. He helped me see all the things I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t have kids.

The incredible gift of growing and birthing new life.

The indescribable feeling of being the one and only source of nourishment a newborn baby needs.

20 unbelievably tiny toes; 20 chubby fingers; the pattern the blood vessels make on the inside of Isabella’s ears; the faint birthmark on Barrett’s side.

Nursing smiles.

The glorious feeling of a baby breathing deeply, sleeping soundly, wrapped on my chest as I sing and worship.

The sweet feeling of a small head resting heavily between my shoulder blades, riding on my back as I hike.

Seeing eyes light up or arms flap happily, hearing gleeful shouts of “Mommy!” when I walk into a room.

First steps, first words, first everythings.

Hearing my daughter cheerfully, and of her own volition, recite to me the little incantation of love I have always said to her, “I love you higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, and bigger than the skies!”

The surprise of just how many beautiful, clever, hilarious, stunningly insightful things a 3-year-old says during the course of a single day.

Cooking dinner to a backdrop of the loud, joyful chaos of giggling, shrieking, chasing, and playing; a home full of wild happiness.

Being confronted by the ugliest parts of my heart; my need for control, my anger, my deficit of Every. Single. Fruit of the Spirit. Dealing with it, and allowing it to change me. Where I was inflexible, closed off, and stubborn, I am softening, opening, yielding.

Isabella and BarrettHad I not had children, I would never have had to deal with the tough stuff… but I never would have known the beauty I was missing, nor the power to become better, become transformed. The truth is that parenting is hard. REALLY hard, and messy. It is also dazzling and magnificent and FUN. Like any journey worth taking, parenting is made up of many small moments. Some of them suck. Some of them are amazing. Strung together, they are the stuff life is made of.

I suppose if I had the chance to answer my friend over again, I would say:

Sometimes. Usually I like it… sometimes I love it, and sometimes I don’t.

And that’s ok.

An Open Letter to Extroverts

Dear Extroverts,

We introverts really do like you, but it seems we have a bit of a disconnect. A lot of us feel misunderstood. We feel a pressure to fit into your environment instead of create a new one together. On the Introvert-Extrovert scale, I’m closer to the middle than either edge, but I’m definitely an introvert. I’m married to one of your people, though, which has given me ample opportunity to understand just where it is that we’re missing each other. I don’t want to blame it all on you, but there are a few myths that some of you seem to believe about us that I’d like to clear up. (And let me just say, I know not all extroverts are the same. I wouldn’t lump you all together. Just read with an open mind.)

1. Introverts are Boring

They’re so not. Some of the most fun, funny people I know are introverts. They’re often funnier because they are so unassuming, and extroverts can easily miss it. In a group of people, you extroverts will almost always naturally dominate the conversation or direct the activity. This isn’t because introverts are passive by nature. It’s because we’ve learned that we probably won’t be truly listened to and we don’t appreciate being verbally bowled over. You don’t mean to, but you often do. So instead, we choose not to engage. We don’t feel the need to share like you do. We’re happy to just observe and be silently amused by our unspoken jokes and ideas.

Introverts can be a blast if they’re with people they trust. Example: my mom is a total introvert, and she’s hilarious. But you won’t hear the funny stuff she’s thinking at a big party because she’s not about to trust a group of rowdy extroverts to stop talking over each other for two seconds and listen.

I’ll add the caveat that I do know some extroverts (not many, sorry) who are great listeners. The problem is that when you get around each other, you can tend to ignore everyone else.

2. Introverts are Shy or Anti-Social

Introversion does not equal shyness, just as extroversion does not equal confidence. This, I think, is the biggest myth about these two personality types. Let’s get the definitions cleared up.

Introvert: Someone who is energized by solitary time

Extrovert: Someone who is energized by social time

If I’m not already exhausted, I actually look forward to social gatherings. I really enjoy hanging out with people. I know who I am and I’m not afraid of big groups. The difference between me and you is that I arrive home from a party half dead with thoughts of yoga pants and a glass of wine and Tolkien for the next 6 hours and definitely no talking. After a party, you’re probably busy rounding up willing participants for FroYo or a midnight showing of American Hustle or a last minute road trip to Vegas.

3. Your Introvert is Mad because He/She is Not Talking

Your introvert is probably just thinking. Maybe about something important like health care reform or global warming or how Sherlock actually survived the jump. Or maybe not. But if they’re going to offer up their thoughts to you, chances are they won’t do it until those thoughts are fully formed. Ok yeah, sometimes we’re mad and silently flipping through a rolodex of sarcastic quips to throw your way. But usually we’re simply enjoying our head space.

My sister-in-law is high on the extrovert scale. It took her a few years to figure out that filling up the empty space in our conversation with more words was shutting me down. That empty space is an invitation for a slower-to-speak introvert to step in and share their ideas. (Likewise, it took me a few years to figure out how to insert myself into tiny breaks in discussion, and that my half-formed thoughts shared verbally would go a long, long way to making her feel connected.) She thought I didn’t like her and didn’t want to have a relationship with her. I thought she didn’t care about me and didn’t want to have a relationship with me. After 7 years of practice we now chat easily, but it took some learning for both of us.

4. Introversion is Inferior to Extroversion

Our culture is built for extroverts, and runs on the premise that extroversion is the superior personality type, and that, in fact, introversion isn’t a personality type so much as a character weakness. At some point during every team building exercise or social event, introverts are invited to “get out of their comfort zones” and “have a little fun.” First of all, I was already having fun until you coerced me into participating in an icebreaker. Second, this is a subtle but persistent assumption that my comfort zone is unhealthy, but yours is all good.

Just once, I’d like to hear the following announcement at a party: “Ok, all you social butterflies, it’s time to stretch yourself a bit and have some fun. I’d like you to pair off with one person you already know, find a quiet spot, and spend the remainder of the evening in meaningful, intimate conversation with that person.”

Here’s the thing: we all have a comfort zone, and it can be unhealthy if we stay there all the time. It’s a very good thing to stretch the limits of our ease from time to time. I’m just tired of being told that I’m the one that needs to push my boundaries in order to fit into your comfort zone.

You probably don’t realize that that’s the message we introverts are receiving. I don’t think it’s intentional. But it’s definitely there, in every arena of our lives. I’d like to ask you to give us a little space, a little time, and a little freedom. And maybe step into our comfort zones once in a while.

Introverts, what would you add?
Extroverts, what are we missing?

On the Seven Year Slump and the Year of Jubilee

Last year Stephen and I lived what we called “12 Months of Simplicity,” focusing on simplifying our lives in a different way every month. I blogged about it for a while but then Baby Bear came along, and I turned my attention away from writing for many months. Even so, we simplified during 2013. A lot. We had to. 2013 threw a lot at us and we pared down out of necessity. We’re exhausted from all the changes of last year.

One big change was our church move. After 18 years at Bridgeway (and 9 for Stephen), we felt God asking us to do the thing we never, ever expected: find a new home church. It was simultaneously heartbreaking and exhilarating, but we were obedient. We’re now building relationships and settling happily into our new church, appropriately called Jubilee.

The first Sunday of 2014, our Pastor mentioned that historically speaking, this is a Jubilee Year. A year to celebrate, to take back what’s yours, to live in freedom.

seven years of marriage, jubileeIn the bible, the Israelites would cancel their debts and free their slaves every seven years. Then, in year 49, a year of Jubilee was declared. After seven cycles of seven years, Jubilee was “a time of freedom and celebration when everyone will receive back their original property, and slaves will return home to their families.” – Leviticus 25:10.

This April, Stephen and I will celebrate our 7th anniversary. After reading a blog post the other day titled “5 Ways to Secure Your Happyish Ever After,” (which was, in my estimation, a somewhat grim depiction of marriage) I couldn’t stop thinking of all the bleak, discouraging things we heard about marriage before we tied the knot. We decided we wouldn’t live under those expectations, and up to now, we’ve kicked ass at this Being Married thing. I often wonder if we’re doing something different than the couples we know whose marriages have failed, or if we’re just really different people. Probably both. But I will say without shame that Stephen and I are really good, and always getting better, at our relationship.

However, one thing has hung over me like a cloud, especially through this last year: The Seven Year Slump (or The Seven Year Itch). People talk about it like it’s inevitable. I’ve read pop psychology papers about how it’s actually physiological. How you’re bound to get bored, settle into parallel lives, simply coexist, build more and more tension, succumb to infidelity, etc., etc. I’ve lived frightened of this idea since we got married almost 7 years ago. Will this fated crisis be the one to do us in?

But like the rest of society’s predictions, we’ve decided that we’re just not going to do the Seven Year Slump. In true Jubilee spirit, we’re going to have a Seven Year Celebration! I’ve always wanted to write about our marriage, but I rarely do. I always thought I didn’t have enough experience to bring to the table (which is silly- we can learn loads from newlyweds). Stephen and I also guard our relationship carefully and I’ve never felt comfortable sharing much of the inner workings with people.

I realize that 7 years may seem like the blink of an eye to some, but I’m tired of waiting. I love being married, I love marriage, and I believe there’s a real need for people who have a positive perspective on it. As I write about the things we’re celebrating, the ground we’re taking, and the freedom we’re increasingly stepping into, I’m going to focus on marriage.

What good – or bad – things have people told you to expect about marriage? Married people, has it come true for you?

On My Most Urgent Prayer

Parenting is my crucible. How immensely rewarding and reworking and relentless it is. How huge is the responsibility of tending two tiny humans, day in and day out, again and again, without stopping, like the waves upon the shore.

I stand in The Here and Now, keenly aware of how my words and actions will ripple through days, months, years, decades, as these small people grow into big ones, complex and independent, with relationships and big plans and influence of their own.

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And I tremble at the massive weight of this. I live in fear that my lack of constancy should teach them more than my rare glimmering moments of self-control. After all, children remember what we said less that how we said it, how we lived it.

Oh, I tremble.

So when the baby is screaming, the toddler whining, the pressure building, when I feel trapped by the tedium of it all, this is my prayer:

Thank you, thank you, thank you for trusting my slipshod self with this beloved girl and beautiful boy, and help me, help me, help me do this right.

Though I feel laden, they are no burden; caring for these little hearts is a privilege.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Help me, help me, help me.

On the Art and Grace of Homemaking (and how I suck at it)

Many of my friends are homemakers, and I say that with the utmost respect. They are talented, brilliant, creative women (and a handful of men) who bring dignity to the title and joyfully shine the light of love in their homes and on their families.

They have chalkboards in their kitchens on which inspiring messages are written in neat, lovely handwriting, which I assume helps them not yell at their kids while they cook dinner.

Their homes aren’t just clean; they’re decorated with unique items they picked up at thrift stores and garage sales and flea markets for super cheap and then upcycled to fit into a color palette that was clearly intentional.

They have framed family photos and a beautiful homemade wreath on their front door and a special basket in the entryway for shoes. They decorate for the holidays and host baby showers and craft their own Thanksgiving centerpieces.

They remember to replace their burned-out lightbulbs.

I, on the other hand, am more of a home maintainer, and that’s putting it generously.

Most of our picture frames still have the fake families in them.

We have hooks over our closet doors but my purse and gym bag and diaper bag are almost always laying on the couch or the floor or wherever I dropped them when I came in, the contents indiscriminately strewn about from when I dug around to find my wallet or iPod or a spare diaper.

Blocks and stuffed animals and books and dinosaurs and dog toys cover every square foot of our floor. Shoes live wherever we take them off, which is everywhere-ish.

My desk is so covered with mail and bills and receipts and random papers that I practically have to exhume my laptop whenever I sit down to work.

Lip-smudged wine glasses and empty mugs containing dried-up tea bags sit on side tables. Plates and bowls lay on the floor, licked clean by the dog and abandoned.

Laundry is usually spilling out of baskets sitting on a couch or in a corner, sweaters and coats are draped across chairs. Wet dog-nose prints make a blurry line across the sliding glass door which I suspect may never come perfectly clean. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t tried.

The best I manage on any given day is to briefly reign in the chaos before it breaks free again the next day. I put the laundry in piles for each family member, shove the toys into the toy box, carry the dishes to the sink, and refill that wine glass.

Decorating? Psh. Right.

A few weeks ago we were visiting a church. They announced an upcoming holiday event (aimed at women, predictably, but I won’t go there today) where they would be giving away fully decorated Christmas trees and festive tablescapes.

“Tablescapes?” I thought. “Shit, that’s a thing?” I was mentally transported to our dining room table, upon which two small pumpkins sat, colored with sharpies, one half-rotted and collapsing in on itself: my fall “decor.”

I usually just laugh at the myriad ways I don’t fit the feminine stereotype, but I suddenly felt wholly inadequate. In over 6 years I haven’t managed to get our wedding pictures framed (or, for that matter, even printed) and now I’m supposed to have a tablescape?

I, like so much of the feminist movement, have been quick to dismiss the traditionally female role of homemaking as insignificant, the idea of special seasonal decor as silly, but the truth is that I just really suck at it. I mean, I don’t even try. Not at all. Partly out of some misplaced noble rebellion against the stereotype, but mostly because I seriously suck at it and I seriously hate sucking at things.

Honestly, I love visiting my homemaker friends (especially this time of year!) who are gifted at decorating and hosting, who excel at creating a warm space and inviting atmosphere. I appreciate the dozens of subtle details they’ve attended to. I’m awed by the hundreds of quiet acts they do to serve and bless those who live in and pass through their homes. There is an art and a grace to the profession of making a home, and for all my impassioned rants about cultural gender expectations (which I stand by), I’m also secretly disappointed that I seem to come up lacking.

Seriously. How hard would this be?

Seriously. How hard would this be?

Deep down, I want my house to be organized and simple and pretty and have a few of those just-right accessories. I want it to be welcoming and comfortable. I want it to be festive during the holidays. I don’t want a lot of materialistic junk, just a few touches that show that we care about how things look around here. I know the concept of home is more than how it appears, but I’d like to enjoy a living space that looks like I’ve put even an ounce of thought into it.

But maybe it doesn’t come as naturally as I assume it does to all my friends. Maybe it’s something I can experiment with and learn to do. Maybe it’s ok to try a little, and maybe that doesn’t mean I believe all women are predestined to be homemakers and all men are predestined to be breadwinners. Maybe I just want to do some decorating.

I guess it probably starts with replacing a few lightbulbs and breaking out the windex.

Happy Homemaking.

On 174 Pounds

I recently read “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” by Peggy Orenstein. It’s a chilling and inspiring read for those of us with daughters, and I ate it up. In it, Orenstein mentions several stats that brought me to tears:

  • Nearly half of 1st-3rd grade girls already think they aren’t skinny enough.
  • 81% of 9-year-old girls are already dieting.
  • Roughly half of 10-year-old girls are scared of getting fat.

When I read that, I realized a few things:

  • In gradeschool and junior high, I never thought – not even a little bit – about the size and shape of my body. I was a high school sophomore when I began to understand that I even had a “size.”
  • I was a high school junior the first time I took note of my own weight.
  • I was a college freshman the first time I tried on clothes and fretted about whether they “flattered” my figure (ie, noticed I had any features that needed “flattering”).

At first I congratulated myself for being so counter-cultural, but it didn’t last long. You see, around age 18, I experienced an abrupt shift from total lack of a body image to sudden self-loathing and shame over my body, and as I read those stats, I was overwhelmed with fear that my daughter would end up like I am: obsessed with her inadequate body, despite the best efforts of her parents to protect her.

I’m still not sure why it took hold so quickly, but I bloomed very late, and grew up shielded from the powers of advertising and consumerism. When I emerged into the real world as an adult, the marketing machine hit me and it hit me hard. Like Adam and Eve becoming aware of their nakedness, I suddenly realized that there existed for women A Standard of physical perfection, and that I didn’t fit it. Not even a little bit.

I am a size 12. I’m 5’8″ and weigh 174 pounds. My torso is  too long. My shoulders are too broad. My thighs are too muscular. My calves are too big. My arms are too squishy. My hips are too wide. My tummy is too wobbly. And let’s not even talk about my boobs.

I feel the pressure of perfection everywhere I look. Slender, pretty, fit-but-not-too-fit women surround me. On television and in movies. In department stores. In virtually every advertisement ever conceived of in the history of advertising. On pinterest, smiling ironically from between a recipe for brownies and  another for cheese dip.  In my favorite body-positive magazines (et tu, yoga journal?). Even in dear friends whom I perceive to be thinner and daintier and more stylish and therefore much, much better than me.

measuring-tapeI know academically that “Identity is Appearance” is a giant lie, but my walk ain’t as liberated as my talk. The fact that I still say “I am a size 12″ rather than “I wear a size 12″  reveals the fact that I believe The Lie. The Lie says I should feel guilty over every dessert eaten, every carb consumed, every excess calorie not burned. The Lie makes me feel jealous of women who are smaller than me, and superior to those who are larger. The Lie has led me to defiantly wear clothing too small for me, for years, believing that the number on the tag reflects on who I am. The Lie says that once I get into that smaller size, I’ll be happier. That if my stomach were a little flatter, people would like me more.

Over the last few months I’ve  slowly become aware of just how prevalent The Lie is, and I’ve been carefully and painfully dismantling it. Or trying to, anyway. Like I said, there’s a lot of self-congratulations happening and not a lot of actual change. I still count my calories. I still furtively eat chocolate and then feel guilty all day. Last time I shopped for pants I cried at least 3 times in the changing room. I’m a liberated woman. I make my own choices, societal standards be damned. What is wrong with me?

Last week I was in yoga, in my dark corner by the mirror. I slid my right foot forward into a deep lunge, and pulled myself up into crescent, extending my arms above my head, spreading my fingers, and digging my toes into the mat. I glanced up to check my form in the mirror and was met with my reflection, like I always am. My jiggly arms, my chubby belly, my wide hips, my thunder thighs. The same reflection I see every time. The same “problem areas.”

I was swiftly flooded with an emotion I’ve honestly never felt in over 2 years of practicing yoga:

Gratitude.

I was so overcome with gratitude for my body I could hardly look at it. Twice in my adult life have I found my reflection, without judgement, to be truly beautiful: the day I shaved my head, and last Wednesday, standing in crescent lunge, sweating and trembling.

I had a Suddenly moment. Where before I saw jiggling, I began to remember meals and drinks, lovingly prepared, and shared with people I love. Instead of chub, I saw 81 total weeks of pregnancy, 2 beautiful babies, hundreds of hours of breastfeeding. Instead of big and wide I felt strong and stable.

Look at this fabulous body, I thought. Look at what it can do. The mountains it’s climbed. The miles it’s walked, carrying backpacks in the wilderness, carrying babies back and forth across the carpet in the middle of the night. Look at the children it’s grown, and birthed, and nursed. Look at the way it lets me experience, tangibly, each relationship in my life. This body has made love, given and received countless kisses, shared thousands of hugs. Look at the way I live and move and breathe with this incredible body.

In that moment, in yoga class surrounded by people with whom I had previously been comparing myself, I was changed. I can feel it still,  gratitude pulsing in my spirit, and a sense of proud ownership. I smile at myself in the mirror. I give my body what it needs instead of punishing it. I go to yoga and lift weights and run because it makes me feel grounded and happy and I’m nicer to my kids afterwards… not because I feel bad about what I had for lunch. I show my daughter what confidence and fulfillment really looks like, and it doesn’t look like striving.

We’ve had enough of the fighting, my body and I. I’m tired of reaching for approval I don’t need. I’m tired of doing things for other people, tired of apologizing and hiding. I’m tired of hating my body and ready to love it, every curve and every fold, all 174 pounds.

On Living in the Trenches

Our baby boy arrived on April 15th, nearly 5 weeks ago. It feels like yesterday, it feels like eternity ago, it feels like he’s been here the whole time. Our family feels complete, and my heart is full. Isabella taught me how to love unconditionally, and now I love without struggle.

Everything is so different this time. Where the first 6 weeks with Isabella were a fog of numbness and depression, I’ve felt (mostly) happy, present, and balanced this time around. I’m head over heels in love with this little boy.

So it’s hard to explain why I’m still ticking off the days till the baby stage is over.

When I go out with the kids, Isabella walking by my side and little Barrett snuggled on my chest in a sling or a wrap, people notice. And I grit my teeth every time they do.

I avoid eye contact with the little old lady at the grocery store who slowly wanders my way. I keep my eyes straight ahead on walks, ignoring the woman who looks towards me with congratulations on the tip of her tongue. I pretend I don’t hear the  bank teller’s hushed-but-loud-enough-I’m-obviously-intended-to-hear-them comments, “What a cute baby!” and “Aww, so tiny!”

Usually the well-meaning interluders are older women who miss having little ones, or younger women whose children are just old enough that they’ve forgotten the hard parts about having a baby. Or, maybe they just genuinely loved the baby stage. It’s been well-established on this blog that I am not one of those women.

When people look at me knowingly with a smile on their face, I think most of them are imagining that my day-to-day experience (though challenging, certainly) is an idyllic baby paradise that looks just like a Johnson & Johnson commercial, where my infant and I stare deeply into one another’s eyes and smile and bond, and soft light pours in through a window, and I have showered within the last 7 days.

But this is what it’s really like:

I’m living in the trenches. It’s warfare, and I’m just keeping my head down and trying to make it through the day. And yeah, it’s been a while since I bathed. At least I’m alive.

Don’t get me wrong- I couldn’t possibly love this little dude more. I’m crazy about Barrett and Isabella. Before I had kids, I didn’t know you could love someone – someone so little and helpless who can reciprocate nothing – so damn much.

Parenting babies is my refining fire, a blaze I cannot put out. It makes me better, stronger, yes. But the process brings my every heinous imperfection to the surface. It’s valuable but it’s also painful, ugly, and really, really hard.

We fought for a noble purpose in World War II, but the reality on the ground was muddy and bloody and perilous.

 

I genuinely appreciate congratulatory comments from people who actually know me, even if they don’t understand what it’s like for me. But what I appreciate even more is when fellow soldiers say “hang in there,” or “me too, mama.” I love when veteran parents tell me “you’re doing great,” and “keep fighting, it’s worth it, I promise.”

I don’t need pressure to enjoy every single second because it “goes so fast,” or stories about how much worse it will be when they’re teenagers. I need validation, commiseration, and the assurance that it eventually gets better.

I can’t be the only one. Caring for a newborn, working a terrible job, getting through the semester, going through counseling… Who else is in the trenches with me?

We’ll get out eventually. We will.

Five Minute Friday: Here

Lisa-Jo Baker has been hosting a Five Minute Friday party for over a year and somehow, I’ve never participated. It’s simple- she just shares a writing prompt and hundreds of bloggers write about it for five minutes. No editing, no planning, no worrying. Just raw writing.

So I’m joining in today. The prompt is: Here. So here I go…

 

Since my daughter was born 27 months ago, I’ve been learning a daily lesson in being present. Admittedly the first 12 or so months were more like a forced lesson, as I struggled with the challenge of caring for a child, day in, day out. My reality, here.

But I adjusted. I got out of my stupid head, through my ridiculous pride, and asked some people for help. I learned to get out of bed every morning (whatever time it was) knowing that I would be present. That I would be here.

Now I’m waiting for my son to be born. We’re having a homebirth, so I’m just staying… here.

No need to leave. No need to rush. He’ll just come when he’s ready. A big part of me has thought back to those early weeks with Isabella and felt a lot of fear. I remember wanting to escape, and I know there will be even more bringing me back to reality. Not just a newborn, but a toddler. I’ll be needed… here. I don’t know what it will be like, but I guess I’m just trying to say this: I promise I’ll ask for help if I need it. Right away, not a year from now.

Being here is worth more than my pride.

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On March: Purging and Nesting

March – our purging month – was one of the most hectic months of my life. During the last few precious weeks before our new baby arrives, all I wanted to do was spend time sitting on the floor reading books with Isabella and going on walks. Instead I had 4 times my normal workload, deadlines nearly every day, and a commitment nearly every evening. I accessed my extrovert for 4 weeks straight and I’m exhausted.

I also had a powerful biological need to organize my home and keep every square inch of it cleaned within its life, which is the only reason I was able to do any purging and nesting at all.

Before and After pictures of our front coat closet (definitely the biggest nightmare):

Closet.

This is embarrasing.

My gym bag finally has a home!

I also tackled our bookshelf, bedroom closet, refrigerator, and both cars. Izzy’s toys are stored in a big shelving unit from Ikea so she can get whatever she wants out and put it away herself. Pretty much everything we own now has a place to live and we’ve given a ton of stuff away. Stephen got rid of at least a third of his clothes:

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I’ve always hated that tie.

empty hangers

See all those empty hangers?

 

 

Once I finished purging and organizing, I started on my birth checklists.

My home is in order.

My deadlines are met.

My birth supplies are gathered and my birth kit is assembled.

The carseat is installed.

The tub is cleaned.

My freezer is full of fresh homemade bread and meals ready to go, and we’re stocked up on snacks for labor.

Izzy’s bag is packed for my parent’s house.

My emergency bag is packed in case we need to go to the hospital.

Barrett’s clothes are cleaned and folded.

simplicity bannerI’m officially ready to have this baby. My home is ready, my body is ready, but mostly… my heart is ready. I’m aching to meet him. I’ve been waiting. I’ve done everything I need to do. I’m ready for a new season with a new child and a new normal.

I’m very, very ready for April’s goal: No Negativity. We will speak only words that encourage and bring life to ourselves and one another.

On Living in Relationship Without Facebook

simplicity bannerI know, it’s March 9th, and I haven’t shared anything about our No Social Media February, or our Purging and Nesting March. I’ve written and revised several drafts of this and each pass brings up new things for me to process, so I’ve been putting off the final posting.

Because I update social media for a handful of my clients, I had to get on Facebook a couple times during February, and each time, there were more notifications. At first it made me feel like I was missing out on life; I had a little withdrawal anxiety. But I started to care a little less, every time.

I was surprised how easy it was after the first couple days. I really stopped thinking about what I was missing… stopped thinking about the myriad witty ways I could sum up that experience for my status; stopped thinking about instagramming that cute picture of Izzy; stopped thinking about tweeting that headline. I stopped missing out because I was picking the perfect filter for a photograph or replying to a comment.

I stopped thinking about sharing my life on the internet and started living it, completely present, in the moment. I don’t think there’s something wrong with all these things, but I’ve discovered through this process that social media had become another means, just like my hair, of molding my identity to fit into some ideal.

I feel newly liberated from the expectations of others. Because I stopped sharing the daily details of my life, stopped receiving constant feedback, and stopped comparing them with the details shared by others, I stopped caring about the feedback and where I fell in the comparison.

Some combination of this freedom and added time on my hands allowed me to start writing more. I published a couple blog posts this month that felt scary and personal which got a surprising amount of traffic. But my journal is doubly full of stuff I wrote just for myself, and I haven’t journaled in months.

When you decide to live instead of craft a digital life that looks just-so for the benefit of others, it’s risky. Relationship is not safe.

A friend and I were talking last week about relationship – that it inherently requires risk and trust, and that if you aren’t putting yourself in a position where you could potentially get hurt, you’re missing out on the full potential of that friendship. I’m enough of an introvert that social media can enable me to fully withdraw from the real world, and this month forced me to risk with the right people instead of the full sphere of everyone I know on Facebook.

As we’ve given up social media this month, I have felt isolated, a little bored, and… surprisingly peaceful. I’ve yearned for relationship, and couldn’t fill the void with status updates from people I haven’t talked to in a decade. Instead, I’ve filled it day-to-day and face-to-face with my family, through phone conversations with cherished long-distance confidants, and over coffee dates, dinners, walks, and yoga sessions with old friends.

Surface relationships conducted through the screen of my iPhone are being replaced by messy, authentic, deep relationships with the people who matter most to me, people whose feedback I really value and who have authority to speak into my life.  Over the shouting and clamour of children; over the stirring of pots and pans; over long evenings, glasses of red wine, laughter, and many, many dirty dishes; this is where my heart has found relationship this month. And it’s better than Siri, that’s for damn sure.

I fully realize the irony of this entire post given the fact that I’m sharing it on the internet, via social media channels, my life out there for everyone to see. This difference lately is that I’m living my life in the real world and just writing about it here.

I’m not writing this to tell you the “right way” to use social media, but to challenge you to look at your own habits. When we came up with this Year of Simplicity, nearly everyone I asked listed Facebook as a major distraction from the important things in life, so I have to imagine I’m not the only one who felt controlled by it without even realizing it. For me, the issues went much deeper than wasted time and energy, and I’m still sorting them out.

Speaking of sorting things out… we’re spending this month getting rid of crap and organizing our home. Embarrassing photos of our closets to follow.

Did anyone else give up social media with us? If not, do you feel like you could benefit from a break?

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